Attacking Baraque de Fraiture

The attacks onBaraque de Fraiture,  the highest altitudes in the mid region of the Ardennes, started on december 19th 1944, the third day of the Battle of the Bulge. About 300 American men, with the order “Hold this ground as long as humanly possible.”, withstood an immense amount of German troops for 5 days.

Baraque-de-Fraiture-1932Baraque de Fraiture looks like an insignificant place. It is just a large crossroads, with some restaurants, wintersport facilities and a communicationtower. This all lies at an altitude of 651 metres. But it is in fact this crossroads the Germans needed to reach the bridges of the Meuse. And capture this crossroads would make it able to connect several German units. The crossroads led back to the Bastogne/Houffalize area,  the Vielsalm area, the La Roche en Ardenne area and the Manhay/Grandmenil area. The last one was the main target of the 2nd SS division “Das Reich”.

Baraque de Fraiture was hold by approxematly 400 men, coming from various units, who fled several fightings scenes. The group was led by major Arthur Parker, Commanding Officer of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion and Executive Officier Major Elliott Goldstein. The crossroads was defended with three 105mm Howitzers. They used to have 12 of them, but they lost nine of them during the three days of battle when they were supporting the 106th/423th regiment.

On december 19th,  after a long ride and coming from the direction of Salmchateau, approximately 100 men and their three howitzers arrived at the crossroads and set up a defensive perimeter. While defensive Lines were build up, trucks were sent back to Vielsalm to get needed supplies. According to the statement of Charles Jacelon, Major Goldstein said “You know, we came over here to fight a war and this looks like a good place to start.”, wich was agreed by Major Arthur Parker. With a tracked vehicule with a bulldozer blade several gun, several pits were dug. Corporal John Schaffner remembered he saw Major Elliott Goldstein out in the field, yelling and cursing in the direction of the terrain where the Germans were supposingly hiding.
Parker used one of the houses, with a bar, as his command post.Harold Kuizema remembered there was already snow on the ground on the 19th of december. After moving in on the crossraods, he and his buddies took over a farm with a big barn. The owner left the buiding and fled to the rear.

On december 20th two tanks of the 7thAD showed up, together with four halftracks of the 203rd AAA/battery D, mounted with .50 cal machineguns and one self propelled 37mm cannon. They arthur-c-parkerwere driven away form their position, southern of the crossroads.
The 37mm canon was positioned to fire directly down the road in the direction of Houffalize. The group was joined by a platoon of the 87th Recon Squadron.
Landmines and daisy chaines were laid and machinegun positions were set up.
Unaware of the approaching two German divisions (2nd SS Das Reich and 9th SS Hohenstaufen, who approached in the Salmchateau area), Parker and his men decided to defend the crossroad as good as they could. And they were hoping for reinforcements or even relief.
Elliot Goldstein remembered that he could trade his .45 pistol and his jacket for a thompson machine gun and a better jacket. It made him feel much more comfortable.
Captains Huxel and Brown commanded the three howitzers.
Around 01.00 hrs the order was given to set up a roadblock at the junction.  Around 04.00 hrs two M16’s were placed down the road in the Vielsalm direction and two M15’s were placed in a forward position towards Houffalize.
Weather conditions were not to good: it was slightly freezing and misty, vicibility was poor.
John Schaffner reports that around 05.00 hrs, while sitting in his foxhole with fellow trooper Ken Sewell, about a dozen Germans on bicycles approached and stood right in front of him, unaware of his presence. Schaffner reported the situation with the radio to his Captain (Brown). He told Schaffner to stay still and keep their head down. Brown shot his .45 one time, giving the sign for the .50 guns to start a deadly fire. After that, Schaffner hurried back to the Command Post. During his run, he lost Ken out of his sight. Later he heard that he was captured by German troops when they took the crossroads (on the 24th). Schaffner was almost shot by one of the men who were manningelliott-goldstein the howitzers, when he was running back.
Ten German soldiers and two officers were killed.
Around 10.00 hrs a reconnaissance was made by Sgt Mruzinsky, but he found nothing.
One soldier was KIA by sniperfire, while standing next to the CP. According to John Gatens, it was a tanker from the 3rd AD (two lighttanks showed up) , who just arrived form the Regné (Vielsalm directIon) area. Gatens, who manned the howitzer directed towards the Vielsalm road, was ordered to fire some rounds in the woods, to take out the sniper.
Around 15.00 hrs enemy infantry showed up in the area of Samree, to the west side of the crossroads. With some howitzer rounds, the German advance was stopped. But by then everybody was wondering what the exact position was of the enemy troops.
Around 16.00 hrs the men heard enemy sound and one round was fired at one of the M16’s without harming it. But the discission was made to withdrawl, under covering fire of the other halftracks, to the junction.
After that the area became more quiet.

December 21:
The next morning John Schaffner got out of his foxhole and found several dead Germans. One sherman showed up and fired some rounds into the woods in the direction of Houffalize, were some enemy soldiers ran from tree to tree for cover.
The first attack started early in the morning, around 05.30 hrs and lasted over an hour. Kuizema was shooting his carbine from behind a truck and remembers he saw a young kid laying in the field right in front of him. “He was very young, perhaps 16 years old. About 14 POW’s were made. Parker and his men heard from the POW’s that the attack was done by men of the Volksgrenadiers. They had given the order to find out what was at the crossroads.
Around 12.00 hrs the order was given by a messenger, because of failing radio communication, to withdraw to the area of Bra. But Parker did not follow that order. He knew the other troops on Baraque de Fraiture needed the howitzers. So he decided to wait, until he was going to be relieved by reinforcements. Other units came in (3rdAD and 7thAD) to help Parker and his men.
The 87th Rec Troop was ordered to hold the crossroads. But Parker refused to leave as long as reinforcements did not arrive. After a while it did arrive: two platoons of tanks from the third AD, Task Force Jones, who also brought in two 105mm assault guns.
At 15.30 (author George Winters says 17.00 hrs) an attack came from the east and had approached the crossroads within 300 yards. German troops set up a roadblock on the Vielsalm road, using destroyed US trucks. Parkers men missed that, because of the mist.
The troops pulled back into the perimeter, together with the vehicules. In the evening a squad of nine men from the 504th PIR came in, led by Staff sergeant Wehner. (according to the book of James R. Cooley they already arived during the morning at 09.00 hrs)
TF Jones was ordered to withdraw and they were going to be relieved from a battalion from the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment.
Schaffner remembers, while sitting in his foxhole that night, the screaming and moaning of wounded soldiers, who were, apperantly, abandonend by there own troops.

December 22:
F company of the 325thGIR,commanded by Captain Junior R Woodruff, showed up at 03.00 hrs (another source mentions that the arrived at 12.30 hrs that day), coming from the north. The battalion came from the east side when it already was becoming daylight. A patrol of the 504th was sent out and they reported German troops digging in in the south side.
According to Elliott Goldstein, the US troops were preparing for the German attack. They heard enemy vehicules moving around together with infantry. Goldstein decided to simulate a counterattack and around 5.30 all weapons were firing towards the area where enemy troops were hiding. It sounded like a full scale attack.
Around 06.00 hrs another halftrack of the 203rd AAA arrived with supplies.
The lack of communication got the 325th GIR company in trouble. Because of the firing, they got in defensive positions 200 yards on the northern side of the crossroads. One company of the 325thGIR arrived around 12.00 hrs, together with some 504th PIR scouts. The rest of the battalion dug in on the higher grounds on the east side , overlooking Fraiture.
One platoon of the 325th and dug in at the line of resistance, held by the 589th. The idea was to relieve the men of the 589th. But while approaching the perimeter, the platoon came under heavy mortarfire and had to skip the plan. Fifteen men got wounded.
lt-john-orlandoAll wounded men were treated in the aidstation and finally brought back to the rear by jeep.
Later that day, an outbreak was made with an M8 towards Vielsalm to get more help, but the M8 car was taken out by enemy fire. The men left the burning car and got to Fraiture, where they found a company of the 509th PIR. The 82ndAB men showed up the next day, dec 23 around noon.
The area was under fire of enemy mortars and machineguns for the whole day.
The howitzers needed to get back to the crossroads under cover of infantry. But it took until darkness to get the infantry reorganised. At this time the weather was getting worse, but gave the guncrews an advantage: the German troops had to use the roads to attack. And so they would be visible for the US troops. The troops got extra reinforcement of the 3rd platoon of A company of the 643rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, led by Lt. John Orlando.The platoon consisted of four 3 inch guns, towed by halftracks and came from Manhay area. Each vehicule had a crew of ten men. On their way up, they had to make way for retreating Sherman tanks from the 3rdAD.
Arriving at the ommand Post of the 325thGIR  (Auberge de Carrefour) , the troops were ordered to set up their canons on the crossroads.
After 14.00 hrs major Parker got serious wounded by a German mortar. It is a strange situation: according to Goldstein, he, Parker and a few others were standing in the open. Parker wanted to explain the defense, when the Germans saw them and fired a round. Parker was evacuated and Goldstein took over the command.
During the night, German troops set up a defensive line, running down the Vielsalm road and prepared for the final attack.
Harold Kuizema describes the moment they were diging foxholes around the barn. They wanted them to be as deep as possible. Using an army blanket as a cover, they were waiting. He felt a constant fear about what was going to be happening….
Around noon a company of the 82ndAD arrived at the scene. They came from the North East but arrived late because they had been pinned down by enemy fire. They had to leave their roadblock, wich was taken over by the SS. The roadblock was retaken by elements of the 509thPIR, supported by elements of the 3rdAD. (Some sources say it was TF Brewster, but he did never makei t to the crossroads)
When the fog lifted, around15.00 hrs, artillery came in and knocked out a M-16
Around 17.30 one of the AAA guns is hit by German fire, setting the .50 ammo on fire. One man got killed and another badly wounded.

December 23rd:
During the night enemy troops and tank noise was heard. They could even hear the German soldiers talk.
During a patrol, two enemy soldiers and an officer were taken prisoner. They told there interogators that a group SS’ers were going to attack the US postition the next day, and that they would crush the US troops and would not take any prisoners.
Around 5.00 hrs seventy to ninty men of KG Schumann/ 560thVolksgrenadiers, made an attack wich failed. But Orlando’s team got a fierce beating. Several 18 men got killed, POW and MIA.
More mortar fire came in during the day. The guncrews were operating as infantry and were placed in the North east direction. Because of some snow the men were easy targets in the open terrain.
The men needed supplies.
baraque-de-fraiture-destroyed-shermanSomewhere during the morning the men found out that a platoon of towed tank destroyers from the 643rd TDB got captured by German troops. (Orlando’s men)
Around 10.00 hrs one company of the 509th PIB moved in from the North and retook the tank destroyers and made preparations for an attack to the west. Communications Lines were set up again, except for the howitzer crews. The commanding officers, captain Brown, Huxel and Lt Wright had to run to each crew to give the orders.
From the opposite direction, 2 battalions of the 4th Panzergrenadier Regiment/ “Der Fuhrer”, led by Otto Weidinger, were facing the Amrican troops. Weidinger got reinforcements of a gun company. Meanwhile, tanks of the 7th company, led by Horst Gresiak were pulling up from the south in the direction of the crossroads. Gresiak arrived around 13.30 in the area and asked for a pause, because he had made a long trip to get there. It was denied.
Gresiak was not to confident, after a reconnaissance was made: the American positions were pretty good fortified…
Goldstein desperatly needed extra men and gear. He took the SS prisoners and drove to Manhay, hoping he could find Lt Col. Richardson of the baraque-de-fraiture-sherman-tank-destroyed3rdAD. When he reached Manhay he found Richardson immediately. Because Goldstein had no intel for what was coming, he had no idea who was opposite to him at the crossroads of Baraque de Fraiture. But Richardson did: there was a major attack coming and that was the reason the crossroads had to be held at all costs. Richardson ordered major Brewster (TF Brewster) to join Goldstein with a platoon of medium tanks, with armored infantry and a company of the 509th PIB (or PIR). The 509th arrived before the attacks on the crossroads. But the others were held up by a roadblock. Goldstein and Brewster took a jeep from Manhay but were stopped about half a mile before they reached it. They walked the last part. First they came under fire of a German tank. When artillery fire came in, they had to retreat. The crossroads was lost…..
“It was the saddest day of my life.  I had accomplished my mission, but too late, and I felt that I had let down the brave men who had fought so valiantly, and whom I’d left behind.”, Goldstein later stated.

Meanwhile at the crossroads:
All hell broke loose when German troops started an artillery barrage from the south at 15.00 hrs. Infantry attacked, first from the east side, thereafter from the west. The assaults were repelled. stuart-tank-at-baraque-de-fraitureThe 7. Kompanie/ SSpzReg 2, led by Horst Gresiak, attacked with 8 tanks. They knocked out 2 shermans. The Americans asked by radio to retreat, wich was denied by general James Gavin himself, who’s answer was brief: “Hold it at all cost.”
The M-16’s fired in southern direction. Another barage was launched on the US Lines at 16.30 hrs and lasted an hour and a half. At 17.00 about 50 German infantrymen attacked, accompanied by tanks and an 88 canon.
Several sherman tanks were shot up, but some of the men of the 325thGIR manned them again and used the weaponey, that was still working. They fought until there was no other option then to surrender. Around 18.15 Gresniaks troops entered the crossroads and saw how these brave men surrendered.
Most of the US men withdrew to the farm at the crossroads, wich got hit and the stable caught fire. The tanks drove through the open fields aiming at the farm.
Captain Hucksell of the 106th tried to surrender, but waving a white flag and a shirt outside of a window, only gave the reaction that German started to fire more at the house.
Captain Brown gave the order to abandon the house as good as possible and try to reach Manhay. The catle was driven out of the barn and some of the men run between them. It is said that one of Horst-Gresiakthe guys, Cook, was surrounded by German troopers, dressed as Americans. (referring to operation Greif, where German troops dressed as American soldiers and spoke American to distract US troops) Cook just ran with them and escaped. John Schaffner and his buddy Harold Kuizema escaped the building and fled towards the 82nd AD lines, through the woods. During the escape Harold got wounded in the leg and was helped by other GI’s. Later, he was brought to an aidstation. It was the end of the war for him. According to Calvin Abbott, they could not get out of the barn. As they openend the door, a tankbarrell aimed right in his face. He and several others, John Gatens was with him, were captured. When they were walked away, the men were placed in a ditch. German troops had burp guns aimed at them. The men thought this was their final prayer. But then US artillery came in and everybody started to run to the edge of the woods.
Eventually, other men of the 325thGIR tried to escape. Because they had laid communication lines for their CP back in Fraiture, they knew where those lines were. “Their plan was to follow the communication wires hand-over-hand like breadcrumbs back to the CP which was 1 mile NE through an open field and then into the woods.”  Only 44 men (others say 25) of the 116 made it back behind the lines.
Some of the men hid in a basement and remainend there for hours. One of them was Frank Tacker. They could hear German troops all around them, but they were not detected, until they openend the cellar door: they were in the midst of a German basecamp…..

After the capture, a strange incident occured: the men saw an SS guy who was said to be Horst Gresiak. While leaving his car, it was overrun by a German tank by accident. Gresiak didnt make any point of it and asked the POW’s to get the wrecked car of the road.
Sergeant T4 Randolph C. Pierson was one of the men who escaped. But he got wounded and was captured by men of the 2nd SS Das Reich. By killing a German guard, Pierson and another POW maneged to escape and reach the lines of the 82ndAB.

Baraque de Fraiture had fallen….
Used Sources:

– Manhay, the ardennes christmas 1944; George Winter
– La Bataille de carrefours; Eddy Monfort
– Parkers Crossroads; James R Cooley
– article “325 glider infantry Back Issues Tow Line TowLine Winter 2012”
– the Ardennes; Bergstrom
– Sons of the Reich; Michael Reynolds